We stopped and gasped as it hit our eyes. Darrow alone was unmoved. He led the way forward and in an instant had disappeared behind the veil of steam. Thrackles and Perdosa hung back murmuring, but at a sharp word from me gathered their courage in their two hands and proceeded.
We found that the first veil of steam, and a fearful stench of gases, proceeded from a miniature crater whose edge was heavily encrusted with a white salt. Beyond, close under the rise of the hill, was another. Between the two Percy Darrow had stopped and was waiting.
He eyed us with his lazy, half-quizzical glance as we approached.
“Think the place is going to blow up?” he inquired, with a tinge of irony. “Well, it isn’t.” He turned to me. “Here’s where we shall stay for a while. You and the men are to cut a number of these pine trees for a house. Better pick out the little ones, about three or four inches through: they’re easier handled. I’ll be back by noon.”
We set to work then in the roaring, steaming valley with the vapour swirling about us, sometimes concealing us, sometimes half revealing us gigantic, again in the utterness of exposure showing us dwindled pigmies against the magnitudes about us. The labour was not difficult. By the time Darrow returned we had a pile of the saplings ready for his next direction.
He was accompanied by the Nigger, very much terrified, very much burdened with food and cooking utensils. The assistant was lazily relating tales of voodoos, a glimmer of mischief in his eyes.
CAPTAIN SELOVER LOSES HIS NERVE
I lived in the place for three weeks. We were afoot shortly after daybreak, under way by sun-up, and at work before the heats began. Three of us worked on the buildings, and the rest formed a pack train carrying all sorts of things from the shore to the valley. The men grumbled fiercely at this, but Captain Selover drove them with slight regard for their opinions or feelings.
“You’re getting double pay,” was his only word, “earn it!”
They certainly earned it during those three weeks. The things they brought up were astounding. Besides a lot of scientific apparatus and chests of chemical supplies, everything that could possibly be required, had been provided by that omniscient young man. After we had built a long, low structure, windows were forthcoming, shelves, tables, sinks, faucets, forges, burners, all cut out, fitted and ready to put together, each with its proper screws, nails, clamps, or pipes ready to our hands. When we had finished, we had constructed as complete a laboratory on a small scale as you could find on a college campus, even to the stone pillar down to bed-rock for delicate microscopic experiments, and hot and cold water led from the springs. And we were utterly unskilled. It was all Percy Darrow.
I was toward the last engaged in screwing on a fixture for the generation of acetelyne gas.